Trump administration revokes Obama-era fuel economy standards

The White House announced Thursday that it is moving ahead on its much-anticipated plan to roll back the tough fuel economy mandate set by the Obama administration. Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said the agency also intends to eliminate California's authority to set its own automotive emissions rules — guidelines that have traditionally been tougher than those put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency for the rest of the country.

By lifting the California waiver put in place in 1975 as part of the original Clean Air Act, President Donald Trump's administration is effectively neutering a potentially significant challenge to any rollback of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards. By setting levels of automotive CO2 emissions, California regulators could effectively retain higher mileage targets. The 10 other states and the District of Columbia that have adopted the tougher California guidelines would also be impacted by the White House move.

Recently departed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt outlined the administration's plans on CAFE in April, setting in motion a series of public hearings as well as a meeting between Trump and auto industry leaders to discuss a rollback.

RELATED: Foods that could go extinct due to climate change

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Foods that could go extinct due to climate change
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Foods that could go extinct due to climate change

Avocados

There are many reasons why avocados are more expensive now than ever before, including a farmers' strike. But the biggest threats to avocados are rooted in environmental issues linked to climate change: hot weather and droughts have caused problems everywhere from California to Australia. Avocados are weather-sensitive and slow growing — making them especially susceptible to the effects of climate change. 

(Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Coffee

In September, a report from the nonprofit Climate Institute concluded that the area around the world fit for coffee production would decrease by 50% due to climate change. In addition to dealing with drought, climate change has made coffee crops more vulnerable to diseases like coffee rust, which have wiped out more than a billion dollars in crops. 

(Photo by Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Beer

Warmer and more extreme weather is hurting hops production in the US, reports ClimateWatch Magazine. 

And droughts could mean less tasty drinks. Some brewers fear that a shortage of river water may force them to brew with groundwater — a change that the head brewer at Lagunitas said "would be like brewing with Alka-Seltzer," according to NPR. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Oysters

Right now, climate change is actually helping oysters, as they grow faster in warmer waters. However, warmer waters also make oysters more susceptible to oyster drills, reports Seeker, citing a recent study in Functional Ecology

Drills are snails that attack and eat oysters. They're already a multi-million dollar problem for the oyster industry that could get worse thanks to warming water temperatures.

(Photo via Getty Images)

Maple syrup

Climate change is already shifting maple syrup tapping season and impacting the quality of syrup, according to Climate Central. Southern producers fear that eventually, areas like Virginia won't get cold enough for maple syrup production, even during the chilliest time of the year. 

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Chocolate

Indonesia and Ghana, which have historically had ideal climates for growing cocoa beans, are already seeing decreased yields of cocoa. Chocolate companies, like Mars, have hired meteorologists to study the impact of changing weather patterns and attempt to reduce damage. 

"If climate conditions in these growing areas begin to change over time, it may influence both the supply and quality available of an ingredient that we use in our products," Katie Johnson, a senior manager on the commercial applied research team, told Business Insider in September. "Anticipating what the climate will be like 10, 20, or even 100 years from now is difficult, though the better we can understand what the different climate scenarios and risks to our supply chain are, the more prepared we can be in the future."

(Photo by Charlotte Lake / Alamy)

Lobsters

If ocean waters increase more than five degrees, baby lobsters may not be able to survive, according to research by the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the Guardian reported. 

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that the Gulf of Maine will reach that temperature by 2100. In other words, Maine's lobsters could go from a more than $330 million business to extinct in 84 years. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

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Auto industry officials, notably including former Ford CEO Mark Fields, vocally supported a rollback during meetings with the then-new president in 2017. Facing heavy pressure from consumer lobbying groups, they have largely been silent about a cut in mileage targets in recent months, but there remains strong support in the industry to eliminate the California waiver.

"From the automakers' perspective, they'll be happy not to deal with CARB," (the California Air Resources Board that sets emissions targets), said Dave Sargent, the head of automotive research for J.D. Power and Associates. "What they want more than anything is one set of rules. Multiple sets of rules get expensive" to meet, as that can mean designing one model for states following the California rules and another model for the rest of the country.

Environmental groups, as well as California officials, like CARB chief Mary Nichols, have made it clear they intend to fight any plan that would eliminate the Golden State's rule-making authority and while Nichols had said earlier this year that she was open to discussing a mileage rollback she was skeptical that it could be justified.

Finalized during the first Obama term, the guidelines currently in place call for automakers to each reach a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — though with credits and other modifications, the actual figure is expected to wind up in the low to mid-40 mpg range.

"Our analysis clearly indicates that the car companies are fully capable of meeting the CAFE standards and they are able to do so with great savings for consumers," echoed Jack Gillis, the Consumer Federation of America's director of public affairs.

California not only supports that target but has put in place guidelines setting a minimum number of zero-emissions vehicles that all but the smallest carmakers would have to sell in that state over the coming years. California is already the country's largest market for what are commonly referred to as ZEVs, but automakers complain it will be tougher to comply in the other states that have adopted the clean-car rules, such as Vermont.

The Trump administration has echoed the auto industry's primary position against the Obama CAFE rules: that they are two expensive to meet but, based on new meeting records filed with the Office of Management and Budget, it has worked up another argument. Any mileage rollback will have to be approved by both the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's version is titled, the "Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule." The agency will argue that by targeting mileage vehicles will become less safe, among other things by becoming lighter.

California and 16 other states, along with the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit on May 2 challenging the planned CAFE rollback. Further legal action is expected to follow should the administration attempt to block the California CO2 waiver, as well.

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